Implicit elements in language: Psycholinguistic investigations of their interpretation and discourse status

Elsi Kaiser - Language Processing Lab - University of Southern California

Implicit elements in language: Psycholinguistic investigations of their interpretation and discourse status

In certain situations, language offers the option of leaving certain things implicit, with the consequence that those aspects of meaning are not overtly expressed. For example, in sentences with optionally transitive verbs like ‘Lisa ate’, there is no overt object. However, semantically and pragmatically, it clear that Lisa ate something – though the exact identity of the implicit object can be left unspecified. In sentences with predicates of personal taste like ‘The rollercoaster was fun,’ there does not need to be an overtly specified experiencer/assessor (compare to ‘The rollercoaster was fun for me/for Lisa’). These sentences are nevertheless typically viewed as describing the subjective assessment of a certain experiencer, even if the experiencer is left implicit.  In this talk, I will present a series of psycholinguistic experiments from my lab investigating the discourse status and interpretation of different kinds of implicit elements. Our results show that, even in the case of implicit objects, implicit elements are not as ‘discourse inert’ as is often assumed in prior work. Furthermore, we also find that, at least in some cases, comprehenders’ interpretation of the nature of the implicit element is guided by both sentence-level and discourse-level factors. I will also consider the implications of our results for the question of encoding choices, i.e. why a speaker would opt for an implicit vs. explicit element, as well as how this relates to encoding choices concerning different kinds of referring expressions (e.g. null and overt pronouns, demonstratives, names).

If you would like to meet the speaker, please contact Merel Scholman.

 

http://www-bcf.usc.edu/~emkaiser/